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Top Online Communities for Small Business Owners

Top Online Communities for Small Business Owners“In unity lies strength” is a very true saying, whose applications we see every day around us. Nobody makes it on their own, no matter what path in life they choose. It always matters who you can rely on for advice, for support, or for joining forces for success. Entrepreneurs know it particularly well. As a startup founder, you realize how much you have to learn, apart from your specific expertise, about running your business.

And as your business grows, so do the challenges you face. Even for small business owners it is hard to forecast financial results for the next five years, understand what the stock exchange variations mean for their business and find efficient ways to cut costs.

This is why online communities for small business owners appeared. They are generally under the mentoring of a large corporation or several thought leaders and they give entrepreneurs a voice, for sharing their knowledge, asking questions, and finding solutions to their problems.

Some of these communities are thriving, others are not so popular – so we decided to look at them and recommend to you only the most vibrant and active websites which you should join. These are:

1. Startup Nation
The top three categories of this online community are dedicated to: starting a business, growing a business and managing a business. This means that you can find useful advice here from day one when you start operating your business, and continue being inspired and contributing to the community as your business grows.

You will find case studies, how-to tutorials, recommended books, legal advice, tips for obtaining financing, and much more. The Community page allows you to share your input, open conversation threads and grow your network of business acquaintances. Startup Nation also has a radio show, whose recordings are published on the website.

2. American Express OPEN Forum
There is no need to introduce American Express, its financial power and business expertise. This company decided to open a business intelligence and development hub, which focuses advice and insights into the key elements of entrepreneurship: growth opportunities, research, marketing and sales, leadership, and digital tools.

The vast range of articles, tutorials and case studies will help you understand the nitty-gritty of tax preparation, product development, branding, competitive research and any other topic connected to running your business. As a contributor to this forum, your guest posts, if approved, will help you grow your reputation and build trust for your business.

3. Small Business Forum
This is exactly what it says it is – a 100% online forum accessible to registered members, where communication never stops. There are thousands of open threads where other small business owners like you can share useful information, ask and answer questions, post business opportunities, and so on. The only aspect which will make it harder for you to access the exact information you need is the lack of a search field. However, the main topics are logically structured (Sales and Marketing, Accounting and Taxes, Business Law, etc.), therefore you will quickly find a conversation thread dealing with the precise issue you want to learn about.

4. Entrepreneur
This is one of the largest online resources for people running businesses – large or small. Apart from in-depth articles, market analyses and forecasts, and interviews with market leaders, you will also find actual business opportunities, especially franchises.

Entrepreneur is one of the most thriving online communities for business owners, with up-to-date and reliable information from the most sensitive areas of business management, especially finances, taxation and legislation.

5. Various LinkedIn Groups
While the online communities above deal with aspects and problems applicable to all businesses, LinkedIn has very specialized groups where you can join other entrepreneurs from your specific niche. There are groups for freelance web designers, shipping companies, accounting firms, and so on – a simple search will help you find dozens of groups where you can discuss the specific challenges in your line of business.

Last but not least, remember that these communities work on the principle of reciprocity – this means that you have to be active and get involved whenever you can share useful information or answer a question.


How to Create the Organizational Structure of Your Growing Small Business

How to Create the Organizational Structure of Your Growing Small BusinessThere can be no progress in business without structure and order. As a small business having only you and, maybe, a partner at its helm, it made no difference how you titled yourself. But when the time comes to start hiring employees and expanding your operations, things are very different.

You need to create an organizational structure from the moment when you take the first employee onboard. There are several reasons for it: first of all, there is the issue of the job description and the duties the employee will perform. Without a clear definition of their role, you will never be able to put these duties in writing. Then there is the issue of authority and chain of command: who is answerable to whom, how much authority does a specific job position have in decision making, and so on.

The key to a successful organizational structure is to find a simple, but flexible model which can be adapted easily as your business grows. It should also fit the needs of your specific line of business: a law firm will have a different organizational chart from an advertising agency and from a furniture company.

There are various models of organizational structures which can be adapted to your business model, and these are:

1. The Functional Structure
This is a classic business organizational chart which details the various departments existing in a business and how they relate to each other. The CEO or administrator is at the top level and oversees the activity of managers from the other departments. These departments focus on the key functions of any company:
⦁ Product development
⦁ Marketing and sales
⦁ Financial and taxation
⦁ Legal

As a small company, you will probably have only one employee for each key role, but this role should be clearly defined and included in the business structure, allowing you to allocate further job positions and manage your personnel efficiently. This type of structure is ideal for companies operating in traditional industries, such as manufacturing and consumer products.

2. The Product-Centric Structure
When your business focuses on specialized and proprietary products, it makes sense to organize your company structures in departments which deal with various aspects of creating, testing, marketing and further developing your products.

Such companies will start with a Research and Development department, a Customer Accounts department and a Sales and Marketing Department. The core structure of a product-centric company is also influenced by the way you are selling your product or service: one-time sale or subscription-based model. In the first instance, the Sales department has a stronger role and in the second, the Customer Accounts department.

3. The Divisional Structure
Some companies plan to expand by entering new territories in order to find new customer bases. These companies need to be careful about expanding in the right places and at the right pace.

If you plan to grow your business out of your city, or even out of your state, each new division needs to have a separate department in your organizational structure. These departments must monitor the state of the market, competition, and revenues and expenses, while the central structure receives their reports and compares their performances.

4. The Customer-Centric Structure
This type of business structure is adequate if you are selling services or evergreen digital products. The product development is not the key focus of this type of company (since there are few variations foreseen in the future), but rather how to attract customers and keep them loyal.

Such a company will focus on the Marketing department, the Customer Loyalty Programs department, the Customer Care department and any other department which you consider relevant to keep your customers happy in your specific niche.

5. The Matrix Structure
This type of structure is often seen in software and video game development companies. These companies have one key product (or line of products) and the activity is organized in departments which have an equal input into creating and promoting the product. Basically, except from the top CEO who oversees everyone else, there are no other relations of subordination among departments. On the contrary, they are required to collaborate together and complement each other’s work. Nobody can say that the graphic design team is more important than the programmers’ team, for example.

This is an organic company structure, adapted for modern businesses which focus on digital products and services.


Top Secure Cloud Storage Services for Small Businesses

Top Secure Cloud Storage Services for Small BusinessesCyber security is an increasingly sensitive issue, both for large companies and small businesses. Recent ransomware attacks have shown how exposed digital data is, and how much its loss impacts companies and people. Truly, one of the most valuable assets any business owns are not material ones, but digital: the information stored in your company computers and servers.

Just imagine losing all your customers’ data, the proprietary business processes you developed, the login data to various software solutions and online resources (including your social media and email accounts). It is the kind of loss which effectively paralyzes your activity.

Many small business owners fell victim to ransomware attacks and, even though they finally caved in and paid the demanded amount, they never regained all the data held hostage. Moreover, such an attack proved fatal to many start-ups, which were forced to shut down.

There is a simple solution to protect your company data: cloud storage. This service offers you secure storage space on high-performing servers, which are protected against hacking by the most advanced cyber security solutions. To help you choose the best solution for your small business, we prepared a list of the most secure and affordable cloud storage solutions available.

1. Dropbox
Dropbox has been around for years and is one of the most trusted and secure cloud storage solutions. You can test their service with a free account which offers 2 GB of storage space, or you can opt for a personal account which offers you 1 TB (that’s 1000 GB) of storage space for $8.25 per month.

The business account has a monthly fee of $12.50 per user and offers:
⦁ Unlimited storage
⦁ 3rd party integration options
⦁ 2-step verification and 2-factor authentication
⦁ Mobile app
⦁ Local file system synchronization
⦁ SSL encryption

Dropbox has a very simple and user-friendly interface, making it the top choice for people who are not very tech savvy.

2. Google Drive
Google needs no introduction – its reputation obliges them to provide users with top-notch services. Google Drive is more than a secure cloud storage solution. It comes paired with a SaaS (software as a service) solution formerly known as Google Docs, which allows you to open files stored in Drive even if you do not have the software used to create them (such as Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, etc.) installed on your computer.

Google Drives offers 15 GB of storage space for free. Other storage sizes are priced at :
⦁ $1.99 per month for 100 GB
⦁ $9.99 per month for 1 TB
⦁ $99.99 per month for 10 TB
⦁ $199.99 per month for 20 TB

3. MozyPro
This cloud storage solution for small businesses is the ideal choice if you want to forget about the worry of performing back-ups and synchronization. MozyPro does that automatically, retrieving files from servers, desktop computers and laptops running on either Windows or Mac OS. MozyPro is even compatible with specialized Microsoft server applications such as Exchange and SQL.

You can test the capabilities of MozyPro for 30 days for free. The monthly fee is $40 for 100 GB of storage for an unlimited number of computers, and an additional $12.99 per month for servers.

4. Egnyte
This complex cloud storage and collaboration solution offers state-of-the-art protection for your data and allows you to share documents both with your team members and with people outside your business organization. Egnyte is equipped with Microsoft Office 365 (the online version of the Office suite) and offers third party integration for other business tools you use (Salesforce, for example). Speaking of security, Egnyte is SOC and ISO 27001 compliant and offers support even for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Pricing starts at $8 per month per user.

5. Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft has a solid and secure cloud data backup and storage service with advanced encryption and various security features, both for personal use and for businesses. If you want to try before you buy, you can sign up for the personal OneDrive Basic plan which offers 5 GB storage space, without any other collaboration and document editing capabilities.

You can choose from the following business plans:
⦁ $60 per year for 1 TB – standard storage and security;
⦁ $120 per year for 1 TB – advanced security and compliance features;
⦁ $150 per year for 1 TB – includes Office 365.

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